Object lesson

Such was the success of the British Museum exhibition, A History of the World in 100 Objects, that this summer it has been brought to the UAE – with an additional exhibit created by an enterprising young Emirati university student

How do you tell a story without words? When nothing is written down and there is no one left to share what happened, how do we reach back in time to discover what really mattered?

The answer that the British Museum and the BBC came up with was, of course, through the objects that people leave behind. The result was, ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’: a treasure trail that led you around the British Museum on
a journey from the earliest man-made objects to our latest inventions.

colima dog
This dog dates to the beginning of the first millennium AD. He was made to be put in a tomb, because the Colima people of Mexico believed that dogs were the spirits that would take you from this life into the next

It was a huge success; so much so, that the British Museum – in conjunction with the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority – has given the exhibition a new lease of life by bringing it to the Manarat Al Saadiyat exhibition space in Abu Dhabi, where it is running for 100 days, until 1 August  2014.

Becky Allen, the British Museum curator who oversaw the project, explains that bringing the exhibit to Abu Dhabi was a natural next step after London.

“A while ago, as an experiment, a colleague and I marked on a map where all the objects had come from,” she says. “And even when you try and achieve a balance and global spread, what you tend to find is that the Middle East features heavily at every stage of the journey from ancient times to modern times – so sending it to Abu Dhabi really makes sense.”

emirati car
The Prototype Foot-controlled Car was invented by Reem Al Marzouqi, a 23-year-old Emirati student from the UAE University College of Engineering

A highlight from the region is The Royal Game of Ur – dating to around 2600-2400 years BCE, this is the oldest board game in existence for which the rules are still understood. But the most remarkable way in which the Manarat Al Saadiyat exhibition differs from the London one is the inclusion of object 101, the Prototype Foot-controlled Car, designed in 2013.

The prototype foot-controlled car was invented by Reem Al Marzouqi, a 23-year-old Emirati student from the UAE University College of Engineering. It was designed to allow those without arms or upper-body strength to steer a car with their feet, and features a steering wheel in which the hydraulics are replaced with an air pressure pump.

When nothing is written down and there is no one left to share what happened, how do we reach back in time to discover what really mattered?

“Sometimes I think it’s a dream,” Al Marzouqi says of her invention being included in the exhibition. “It’s the only piece there representing my country and that’s a big thing for me. I had expected that my masters would be something on design and architecture but now I think I should start working on things that can have a positive impact.”

Al Marzouqi’s invention not only brings the visitor into the present – and arguably the future – but it also takes A History of the World in 100 Objects firmly back to the region. “In terms of future technology, future ideas, on a big scale as well as Reem’s car, the UAE’s still at the heart of that,” Allen points out, “and that’s a really nice thing to end on.”